Kristin and I trekked up to Madison, WI, two Saturdays ago to check out the Rock and Worship Road Show at the Alliant Energy Center as a sort of already/not yet Valentine’s Day getaway. Though some big names like Hawk Nelson* and MercyMe played, the big draw for us was Kristin’s reigning musical fave, Lacrae. During the long haul northward we listened to a few of his songs as well as his testimony. True, his tunes got our geeky Midwestern van bumpin’ with blazing hip hop, but what I was deeply impressed with was his unabashed zeal for the gospel. The man doesn’t seem to utter a sentence without threading it back to his passion for Jesus’ work on his people’s behalf. His drive to herald the lordship of Jesus where it has been relegated to either the back burner or the dustbin is fervent. His blistering set was a thousand decibels of surrender to the Savior and war on the world’s values. I left the show a convert, for sure.
Listening to Lecrae discuss his initial reluctance at rapping about Jesus (which lasted about two minutes, apparently) set my grey matter gears into motion, prompting me to reflect upon attitudes I have had in the past about Christian music, primarily as an unbeliever. As recently as four years ago (as a self-deceived, faux-Christian pagan) I had no qualms against imperially pronouncing that Christians ought to leave certain styles and genres well enough alone, thank you very much. From my perspective it was the critic’s job to protect the purity of various art forms from tampering by unscrupulous faux-artists. So as a music snob (amongst other unsavory snobberies) and would-be critic I felt quite at home in assessing the legitimacy of Christians using various sounds and styles largely because I had bought the Enlightenment’s arbitrary divide between sacred and secular hook, line, and sinker. Marry these woeful views together in a sort of rationalist shotgun wedding and that left Christians with no room to roam whatsoever in the arts.
I shudder at having championed that view for so long.
What I clearly did not understand, and what other similarly voiced critics don’t understand, is who Jesus actually is. Jesus’ testimony of Himself is that He is King of everything, seen and unseen. His authority is total. His prerogatives are absolute. This means that my elitist definitions of what is or is not legitimate in music are utterly irrelevant because there’s a very real sense in which it simply doesn’t matter what I or you or anyone else thinks about it. Jesus decrees what He wants to see happen and it happens, and our protests are inconsequential. We have far too high a view of who and what we are when we think that our predetermined definitions and categories can hold strong against the Sovereign One’s determinations. It’s contemptible arrogance, pure and simple. My boy Abraham Kuyper once said, “No single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically sealed off from the rest, and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!'” Plainly, if Jesus wants Relient Ks and Lecraes and Joy Electrics and August Burns Reds to proliferate (which He does), no critic in the cosmos has any basis for trying to pull the plug on the program.
Back to Kuyper again. In his fourth Stone Lecture, “Calvinism and Science,” he begins discussing the principle of common grace and basically soothes the consciences of students who love reading Plato and Cicero. Following the lead of Psalm 24:1 (“The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein”) he says, “Moreover, we thank Him for bringing to light all the talents, hidden in our race, developing, by means of a regular process, the history of mankind, and securing by the same grace, for His church on earth, a place for the sole of her foot. This confession, however, places the Christian in a quite different position over against life. For then, in his judgment, not only the church, but also the world belongs to God and in both has to be investigated the masterpiece of the supreme Architect and Artificer.” We needn’t be ashamed of the virtues of the heathen, he points out, because we are to commend whatever is commendable wherever it is. In the absence of a sacred/secular divide, why wouldn’t we?
Acknowledging the sovereign rights of the Lord Jesus still leaves room for criticism therefore because we are both sub-creators and investigators. Believers are called to both create as well as appreciate culture wherever it is excellent, whether its origin lies with believers or unbelievers. Because standards do exist, criticism must take place positively as well as negatively as we study the world and works around us to assess what is worthy of approbation and why. Furthermore, Christians have a God-given mandate to exercise the gifts they have been granted by their Creator in order to create wonderful works in the various media that God has led them to. What this means is that it is they who are most legitimately using those art forms, contrary to the claims of the secularist snobs such as my former self! Lecrae is masterfully adept at what he does and his bold witness only serves to sublimate his craft all the more brilliantly. So begone, acid-tongued critical devils with your cheap, autocratic refuse and grant instead, Lord, more writers, directors, actors, painters, sculptors, and musicians who smash apart these artificially erected boundary lines!
*The only portion of the entire concert which dismayed me was during their set when they finished with “Don’t Stop Believin’.” If any of you truly know me, you know that I detest Journey. They are purveyors of poor culture, indeed, and unworthy of approbation!